environmental literature top 5

Looking at the search topics entered to land at isite, the subject of environmental literature, movies, music and people features large. So starting a new mini series of environmental muses, I scanned my book shelf for what I would consider five of the more important environmental literature that has influenced my thinking over the years. Other topics will include music, environmental handbook or guidance texts, videos and people that have shaped my views.

Environmental Literature top 5:

Very much influenced by ecology, relationships with the great outdoors and connectivity with nature, these are not about climate change, about zero carbon or even sustainability, but fundamental to my understanding of how we approach environment and ecological issues.

Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman 

An autobiography that brings CSR firmly into business. Every time I have done the write thing for the environment I have made a profit write Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing organisation. Any organisation serious about Corporate Social Responsibility should read and learn from this one.Not surprisingly Anti Roddick recommended this book for every school teaching business.

Henry Thoreau – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

The classic, often quoted, I first read this in-situ in New England in the late 1970’s after visiting Walden Pond, and remains a book that I dip into again and again. The notion of living simply in a cabin in the woods has always been appealing – but for me it would now be on the Isle of Skye with Internet access!

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac: With other Essays on Conservation from `Round River’ (Galaxy Books)

Aldo Leopold was an American ecologist and environmentalist, For me this contains a classic passage that still haunts me when I read it – reminding us of the connection we need to find between everyday life and nature.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: The Journal of a Soul on Fire 

A journey in which Muir makes connections with nature. In the UK The John Muir Trust is one of the country’s leading guardians of wild land and wildlife. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.

Robert MacFarlane The Wild Places

A tour through McFarlane ‘s Wild Places in the UK serves as a reminder of why we need wild places, and what wildness means to us, even if we don’t get to see them, and only view them from maps, TV programmes and sat navs. It is also a book that laments about ecological damage. It is about experiencing the wild places, some to be found in very unexpected places. And in the case of McFarlane, experience means sleeping wild, including on frozen Lakeland tarns – and swimming in wild waters.

Limiting this list to 5 was hard and had to leave out Jim Perrin one of our best current essayists – from his 1970’s essay on the Centre for Alternative Technology (within Yes, to Dance: Essays from outside the Stockade) to his current piece in The Great Outdoors and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

What would you add? What are your environmental literature muses?

profit from sustainability?

Is there profit to be made from sustainability is a question I am often asked at sustainability events, presentations and workshops. It has cropped up again today on publicity for the excellent Think 08 event next month.

In some ways the question misses the point on what sustainability is about – ie the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability – where profit is a key element of economic sustainablity.

Within our industry if we could really move from lowest price thinking (ie meaning competition is on profit levels), start moving to ringfenced profits, then we can start to focus on the other two ‘bottom lines” with more vigour. Allowing real profits through the supply chain would have the same affect. Energies applied to trying to make a project profitable can be applied to environmental and social sustainability issues, whilst the project players remain economically sustainable.

Really tackling the 30% or so waste within our sector, (waste in time, costs, materials and most importantly management energy), would more than pay for sustainability improvements whilst allowing a profitable, viable and economically sustainable industry.  For example, recent on-site studies have shown the true costs of skips to be £1300 or so.  One medium size contractor I was working with recently used on average 12 skips a week across 20 projects.  Do the math, as they say!

I often quote Yvon Chouinard – a mountaineering and eco hero of mine – founder of Patagonia clothing, who says that “every time I have done the right thing for the planet I have made a profit…even if the right thing cost twice as much”. Of course it needs the appropriately correct organisational ethos in place to achieve this. (see Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman for inspiration)

Take a look this review extract of Let my people go surfing:

Yvon Chouinard is one of the most important business leaders around today because he’s made a values-lead business highly profitable. Any aspring business leader (and, more importantly, those already running businesses) should be forced to read this. It’s the future.

So yes, there is profit in sustainability – currently, we cannot see it for the barriers and blinkers within the baggage we carry.  We cannot fix todays problems with the same thinking that created the problems.

zeroHouse

A search over a coffee, starting from Pam’s link (here) led me to zeroHouse.

Now this may be hitting a lot of boxes on the zero list, may be an architects vision or dream, but to call eco (as in ‘eco’ =’home’) and a place to live?

Does this primary school Lego construction have a soul – ie a spiritual dimension. Is it at all aligned to nature – it actually looks as though it has flown in to the location and cant wait to be off again. And just imagine a society, a neighbourhood or development of these. Or even, gulp, an eco-city.

And on the current theme here of usability – has anyone lived in one of these I wonder and feedback comments to designers, or indeed feedforward experiences to the next iterative design.

Saying all that this would be a good design to have within the Second Life International Eco Code Park so visitors can move around, experience its ‘feel’ if only virtually and leave comments on their ‘experience’ (click here to enter into the Park)

responsible sourcing accreditation to BS6001?

Will 6001 join the lexicon of standards for our sector, along with 9001, 14001, 18001 (with apologies to others missed!)

Understanding the ripple effect of a facility in use or in construction is increasingly important within both client and supply organisations reputation, ethical standing and overall CSR, (Corporate Social Responsibility). Industry investors are watching such organisational behaviours with increased interested as demonstrated on CSR Wire web pages and discussions.

BRE Global have recently launched a draft ‘framework’ standard BS6001 for responsible sourcing management (RSM) of construction products that intends to address the sustainability, ie social, economic and environmental aspects of materials, from raw source, through use and maintenance to recycling and disposal.

It will be a standard against which organisations or products would be certified.

Its purpose is to support the responsible sourcing management credits within BREEAM, as a stand alone standard or one would assume to assess any RSM requirements within Code for Sustainable Homes, I guess the Code for Non Domestic Buildings (when that emerges) and other sustainability codes and standards.

I would hope the final standard will get the nomenclature addressed and see this as a ‘built environment‘ standard and not just a ‘construction‘ one (even facilities management has an equal duty and obligation to source responsibly !)  I also hope that joined up thinking brings this into the new EU Facilities Management standards in development.

The draft standard contains a scoring system for assessment against the maturity of a number of sustainability themes. It could for example be used now, even in draft form, as a self assessment or supplier assessment to gauge an organisations position, as a snap shot,  on responsible sourcing. (Although some facilitated guidance or support to help understand and fully understand some of the concepts would probably be required)

A welcome addition to the standards family?  BS6001 is based as you would expect on ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and other existing standards.  I do question whether 9001 is still strong enough as the basis for such standards – given the cosmetic changes planned for this year.

On the social responsibility side – will the standard start to address the soil, soul and society elements of sustainability, and the wider ecological footprint?  Making reference to the UN Global Compact will certainly help address social justice.

The standard is open to public consultation until May 2nd.  I cannot see any dates for introduction of the standard.

An introduction and copy of the standard is available for download.

Responsible sourcing is an ethos of supply chain management and product stewardship and encompasses the social, economic and environmental impacts of construction products over their whole life. It is a holistic approach to managing the activities associated with the point at which a material is mined or harvested in its raw state, through manufacture and processing, through use, reuse and recycling, until its final disposal as waste with no further value.

sustainable connectivity

A new look for isite with a new image on the top banner(*). I like this design as it includes a RSS button – to get isite delivered to your desktop, and a search facility to search back through isite items.

But a little more too. After reflection on this blogs contents and direction, I have slightly amended the purpose of isite.

Yes it will continue to be a news views and comments blog for the built environment, poking here and there when things dont seem quite right or dubious, or indeed covered with greenwash. It will continue to be a voice to the online world for the Lancashire Best Practice Construction Club and to a lesser degree the CKE, and will continue to focus on collaborative working, integrated working, facilities management, futures and improvement towards excellence. The emerging web2.0 or even 3.0, and I include second life here, is an important theme that links and enables allot of what we, what I do, so will remain a key element of the posts and comments.

isite is also of course the outlet to the world for my business – fairsnape.  (the name was taken from the local hill in the Forest of Bowland visible from my base here)

However, more importantly I see isite starting to look at connectivity with the natural environment. A number of activities I have been involved with lately has made me realise we may be where we are today because we have lost, and struggling to regain connectivity with our impact on ecology in its widest sense.

What does this mean? – Ecological footprints more than carbon footprints – as John Muir said when we tug on a single thing in nature we find it attached to everything else . – natural materials rather than harmful – renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, community based FM rather than endless target driven fm, about responsible sourcing rather than supply chain bullying, all putting a new direction to CSR.

I have long used the triptych of fit for people purpose and planet (before it became enshrined into the triple bottom line concept I like to think) . It is what Patrick Geddes would call folk, work and place, nearly a century ago, and reading Satish Kumar over the weekend – he described our modern trinity as needing soil, soul and society. Soil for the environment. soul for a spiritual dimension and society for justice.

Kumar a great walker – now based at the Schumacher college in Dartmoor, that incidentally run courses on Zen and Construction, talks about never trusting ideas that you never worked through whilst walking. “when you walk you are connected with nature, when in a car or a building your are disconnected, you walk to connect yourself”.

A while ago I started a benchmark walking programme to do just this – getting workshops and learning sharing events out of a training room or hotel into the countryside. With a loose agenda that emerges to deal with peoples real improvement needs, benchmarkwalks allows real learning and sharing, I likened it to doing business on a golf course – but this is business improving on a walk.

So all this as a preamble to a new thread for isite – connectivity – one I hope that will give it more scope, depth and importance as we address the sustainability issues, the soil, soul and society issues facing the built environment.

(* taken at Beacon Fell, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire recently – a location for many benchmarkwalks)

sustainability – barriers or opportunities?

As expected a number of mixed and potentially confusing announcements made at Eco Build question progress towards zero carbon construction, question the defintion of carbon zero while setting more targets for (non domestic) zero carbon construction by 2020.

Founder of the UK Green Building Council, Dr David Strong is right to question the focus on carbon reductions – we need to remember the ecological footprint as well. Unfortunately the carbon footprint is easier to comprehend, and to address that the wider ecological aspects. Yet we are heading for a skewed future if we do not. See the One Planet Living principles for an approach that encompasses carbon zero through to health and happiness as an example of the wider issues.

Perhaps Simon McWhirter, WWF-UK, a member of the newly announced carbon industry task group headed by Barratts boss Mark Clare to redefine zero carbon will remind this group (once again) of the wider issues?

I also see the barrier of cost being raised again in achieving these targets –“a cost premium for anywhere between 5% to 30% extra”. Now isnt that the estimated cost of waste in our industry, or lost time through uncollaboartive working ?

At a recent best practice club presentation I used a green scale – from grey to bright green – to help illustrate different views to the environmental concerns. Delegates agreed the UK built environment is stuck as accommodationalists – only just turning green from grey  defined as ‘do as little as possible, be led by legislation , but no need to change core behaviour’

I cant help but think of the green build movement in the USA that is just getting on and doing it – talking about achievements and benefits of being green (including cost benefits) rather than talking about definitions, barriers, problems and more legislation to ‘help us’.

(Take a look at the buzz and the near evangelical speeches and presentations at the recent USGBC Green-build Conference – still on line for viewing ! – where it was reported that LEED Platinum accredited buildings produce 45% improvement in energy usage – its not anecdotal any more we have the proof said USGBC CEO)

Thanks to fellow blogger Phil Clarke and Building for news from Ecobuild – nearly as good as online !

Eco … build, homes, villages and towns – pah… greenwash?

James Meikle’s article in yesterdays guardian paints a picture of growing concerns and gaps in the thinking behind the current push towards ‘eco‘ villages and towns.

As a flagship for the huge number of homes to be built and eco towns to be created, Northstowe, if the Guardian report is correct has problems:

As the town takes shape, en route to at least a 20% – and hopefully higher – supply of renewable energy, combined heat and power plants could prove more efficient and cost effective than solar gadgets and micro generation on separate houses.

Sounds great, but the debate is our on micro generation – but only 20% renewable? !!!

More recently, Cooper decided that Northstowe must not be delayed by having to meet zero-carbon standards subsequently imposed for all new houses from 2016.

Ah ha – explains the 20% but if we can do it as an eco-challenge at Hanham Hall in Bristol – why not here?

James too makes the point on the level expected on the homes:

To start with, … private homes will only be at level 3 on the code for sustainable homes, producing 25% lower emissions than legally required so far, but no more revolutionary than homes already being built on some smaller developments. The requirement for affordable homes will be slightly higher at code level 4 – a 44% improvement on minimum standards, but again not as tough as might have been expected, given the experimentation already under way elsewhere.

In my opinion this is not flagship or even eco…

David Bard, a senior councillor on South Cambridgeshire council, which, with the county council, will consider the Northstowe plans in the next few months, says: ” I am not sure that anyone actually knows what is meant by an ‘ecotown’, let alone a ‘prototype ecotown’.

Time to rethink? Time to get back to basics?

Time to recall where Eco comes from – as it is a prefix used in most ‘sustainable ‘ iniatives at the present. Eco-this eco-that and eco-other is indeed the zetigeist of the moment. Eco is of course an abreviation of ecological – and as a prefix used to describe things realted to ecological issues. Except it isnt today, at least in its use for eco homes and villages etc.

Eco villages stem back to 1960’s community living, alternative technologies, living off grid with alternative lifestyles. Are todays eco villages just a clever greenwashing of of that ideal? (A greenwash that probably covers all 6 of the greenwash sins!)

Where is the community, social enterprise, regeneration, ecological diversity protection thinking in these developments?

It would be very interesting to see calculations for the ecological footprint of eco-developments such as Hanham Hall and Northstowe and how they would compare to other or non eco developments. There is much focus on carbon footprints, understandably as its tangible and easy to understand – but if we use the prefix eco – lets focus on the ecological footprint as well.

I have posted on the LEED ND (neighbourhood development) scheme here a few times – it would be fascinating to assess Hanham Hall or Northstowe against this standard. Just looking at the evidence required for submission for this standard would (hopefully) cause a rethink, or dropping of the prefix Eco ! for example:

  • Smart Location and Linkage, (smart location means ecological consideration!)
  • Neighborhood Pattern and Design,
  • Green Construction and Technology and
  • Innovative Design

Any BREEAM assessors, any LEED ND assessors out there looking for a challenge? Anyone out there willing to fund a project to ‘test’ the claims being made? These projects underway now will shape our future housing construction, living, and social well being.

Why do I hear the Pete Seger song when I think of eco-towns

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
more

So time for a rethink and real innovation – as Henry Ford famously said “If I asked people what they really wanted they would have asked for faster horses” Will we still get little boxes ?

And quietly the transition-towns movement gains pace …. but thats another post !